With increasing population putting pressure on the already depleting natural resources of Himachal Pradesh, the state's forest department has drawn a plan for a Rs 1,507-crore mega project to improve forest cover and livelihood of forest-dependent communities in the state.
The forest department submitted the proposal to the central government's department of economics affairs recently for seeking funds from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). “The project has been submitted for consideration,” confirmed principal secretary (forests) Tarun Shridhar.
The draft report of the project, named Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystems Management and Livelihood Project, also aims at improving the productive potential of forests. Under the proposal, the project would be completed in a phased manner in eight years. The first phase, named the “preparatory phase”, will last from 1.5 to 5 years; the second phase, “implementation”, will last from 5.5 years to 6 years; and the third phase, “consolidation”, will last for a year.
The proposal lays importance on increasing forest cover, their density and productive potential, besides improvement of resource base and reversal of degradation of natural ecosystems while working in collaboration with village communities.
Officials of the state government also believe that the project would strengthen people's livelihood and capacity building of communities and local bodies. As per the draft report, the project would cover forestry, soil and moisture conservation, livelihood activities, biodiversity management, reorientation of working plans and a wildlife habitat improvement programme.
Interpretation of satellite data between October and December 2008 shows that the state's forest cover is 14,679-square kilometre, which is 26.37% of the state's geographical area.
In terms of forest canopy and density, the state has 3,224-square-kilometre area of very dense forest, 6,381-square-kilometre area under moderately dense forest, and 5,074-square kilometres under open forest.
The state's major landscapes are significant to the country's biogeography due to their diversity, which varies from Indo-Himalayan to Palearctic. It forms a part of the mighty Himalayan range and is marked by fragile land formations, diverse climate and topography, and rich flora and fauna.
In the draft project report, the state government said development activities had been taking place at a much faster rate, causing further degradation of the ecosystem.
Though the state government had recently increased its protected areas (PA) from 12% to 15% of the total geographical area under its rationalisation proposal of boundaries of PAs, land coverage of PAs in these landscapes is still inadequate to conserve the state's wildlife, fragile ecosystem and safeguard its unique biological diversity.
Project will also include studies and adaptive research on key areas like biodiversity conservation, ecosystem management, wildlife, participatory forest management, and nursery management. The project will be implemented through Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystems Society (HimFES), a cooperative body of the state government, under the chairmanship of the chief minister and an executive committee headed by principal secretary (forests).
The project would cover all districts and divisions of the state except areas covered under externally aided projects (EAPs), excluding Kangra and Chamba districts.
Adopting IT measures
The project also places stress on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) towards better management and conservation of the forest and wildlife resources of the state.
The project's proposal says the government aims at keeping a record of plantations and their development, joint and community forest management initiatives, forest inventory management and estimating the growing stock in the state and tracking forest offences in the state
IN A NUTSHELL
Cost: Rs 1,507 crore
Duration: 8 years in three phases
Area: all districts except areas under externally aided projects
Implementation mechanism: Society mode, which means by roping in village communities and society